Rescuers in the Philippines dug through rubble with their bare hands yesterday in a frantic search for survivors, a day after a powerful earthquake killed dozens of people.
The magnitude 6.7 quake hit a narrow strait between the heavily populated islands of Negros and Cebu at about lunchtime on Monday, triggering devastating landslides, tearing down homes and destroying roads vital to relief efforts.
At least 48 people died and another 92 were missing, regional military commander Colonel Francisco Patrimonio said yesterday afternoon, and local government leaders warned the death toll was likely to rise.
“We are praying and hoping that we will get some survivors, but it’s likely that many of those missing in the landslides have died already,” said Roel Degamo, the governor of Negros Oriental, the worst-hit province.
Dozens of people were confirmed dead in Guihulngan, a coastal city flanked by mountains with a population of 100,000, where the public market, court house and many private homes were destroyed or badly damaged.
After the quake brought down bridges and left deep fissures on asphalt roads, the area was only accessible by motorcycle, foot or helicopter, and overwhelmed local police had few resources to search for survivors.
“We are using our hands and shovels to search in the rubble,” Guihulngan police chief Senior Inspector Alvin Futalan said.
A photographer saw about 50 rescuers dig up the body of a young woman after the mountainside collapsed on a mountain hamlet.
The rescuers later said they heard cries for help underneath the rubble, triggering frenzied digging by men using only shovels. However, they stopped later when they failed to find anyone else.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III ordered air force helicopters to Guihulngan, as well as the navy and coast guard to transport relief supplies by sea, according to his spokesperson, Abigail Valte.
State seismologists said more than 700 aftershocks, some nearly as strong as the initial quake, had battered Negros, and they warned residents to expect many more during the next few weeks.
Guihulngan Mayor Ernesto Reyes said patients at the city’s main hospital were rushed out of the building after a strong aftershock rattled the walls and split apart a tennis court yesterday.
He described a sense of despair and fear throughout the city.
“Our water system is broken, there is not enough food, people are in panic and there is no electricity,” he said.